Thursday, November 27, 2014

Hamilton, Montgomery and Robert the Bruce

Where do you draw the line with ancestry? How far back is far enough? Is the starting point an arbitrary decision? Asserting 1606, as I often do, has a certain logic to it – but what of those same families in earlier times?

The Hamiltons, the Montgomeries and the Bruces are all regarded as Scottish families, yet all three can be traced to William the Conqueror's France - but even earlier, to before the Viking invasion of Normandy of AD912. 

Normal Eglinton Castle2C KilwinningAbove: Eglinton Castle, Ayrshire. Built on the site of earlier Montgomery castles, the present ruins date from the 1790s.

It has been said (by generally well-regarded sources, like 1st century historian Josephus) that the ancient Gauls of France claimed descent from Gomer, the Biblical son of Japheth (Japheth was Noah's grandson), and they settled at a place they named Mons Gomeris or 'Gomer's Mount'. Whether that is true or not, a Roger de Montgomerie appears in the historical record in the early 900s. Around 1066, his descendant and namesake accompanied William the Conqueror from Normandy to England. A Robert de Mundegumbri then appears near Paisley in Scotland a century later in the 1160s.

His direct descendant, Sir John de Montgomerie (known as 'del Conte de Lanark') joined with Bruce in the early 1300s, having previously sworn fealty to Edward I of England in 1296. Fergus of Ardrossan was a close ally of Robert the Bruce, receiving land from him in a charter in the early 1300s – and who accompanied Edward Bruce to Ireland in 1315 – the Ardrossans were later absorbed into the Montgomeries by marriage when Sir Hugh Montgomery de Eglinton married Fergus of Ardrossan's daughter, who died soon after - he then married Egidia, daughter of Walter the High Steward, another of Bruce's closest generals. Walter the High Steward was married to Robert the Bruce's half-sister. 

81c415a04330c2d9818e028f25001104Above: Bothwell Castle, said to be Scotland's largest and finest 13th century castle. Begun in the 1200s, the original circular keep survives, but repeated sieges delayed the castle's completion until around 1400.

The Hamiltons are said to have originated in the Seine Valley in France. Arriving in Scotland some centuries later, today's Scottish and Ulster-Scots Hamiltons are descended from Sir Walter Fitz Gilbert de Hameldone. He  appears in a document of 1294, and like Sir John de Montgomerie, he also swore loyalty to Edward I in the 'Ragman Roll' of 1296.

Some sources say that his mother was Isabella Randolph, sister of Thomas Randolph, who was a nephew of Robert the Bruce and one of his right-hand-men, and a key figure in the later invasion of Ireland led by Edward Bruce.

Initially, Walter Fitz Gilbert de Hameldone stayed loyal to the English crown, becoming constable of Bothwell Castle on the banks of the River Clyde. After the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 many English knights took refuge here - until Edward Bruce laid siege to the castle and Fitz Gilbert surrendered - in return Bruce granted him lands at Dalserf and later Cadzow, including the title 1st Laird of Cadzow. There is a story of Walter Fitz Gilbert de Hameldone at the English court in 1323 where he expressed admiration for Robert the Bruce - upon which he was attacked by a John de Spencer, who de Hameldone killed, and then fled back to Scotland.

The Hamiltons, Montgomeries and Bruces were 'inextricably linked'. As we approach May 2015, the 700th anniversary of Edward Bruce's arrival in Ireland in 1315 it will be important to highlight the families who were allied to the Bruces and who, 300 years later, would lead the successful Scottish settlement of Ulster.

Hugh Montgomery and James Hamilton - and many other descendants of Bruce's men – succeeded from  1606 onwards to do what their ancestors had failed to do from 1315–18. Many of the other 'Plantation' era Scots in Ulster would have similar Bruce, and ultimately French-Norman, lineage. According to GWS Barrow's landmark Robert Bruce (1965) they would have spoken French and Latin for generations before they picked up Scots from the locals, as well as some Gaelic. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Richard Hayward and "Ulster Sails West"

Some weeks ago BBC Northern Ireland broadcast an excellent biographical documentary, presented by Dan Gordon, about Richard Hayward - actor, singer, writer, folklorist, recording artist - you name it and Hayward did it. His life has been wonderfully captured in Paul Clements' recent book Romancing Ireland, Richard Hayward, 1892–1964. An accompanying exhibition produced by BBC Northern Ireland has been touring local venues, the launch of which I attended at Larne Library earlier this year.

Below is a screenshot from the documentary, a frame from a short film where Hayward guides an American GI stationed in Northern Ireland in the 1940s through the history of the place. It shows Hayward's remarkable attention to detail - the placing of a copy of Rev W.F. Marshall's 1943 book Ulster Sails West in the window of a bookshop. This is one of the most distinctive Ulster book cover designs of the 20th century. None of Haywards image-making was accidental - all was carefully considered for optimum effect. I could go on at length here, but you can take it in for yourself in the YouTube version of the documentary, posted below. Hayward's comfort with Ulster's multiple cultural identities, and his joy for the place, is something which todays generation could learn from.

Richard Hayward 11 5 Ulster Sails West HR HR

Monday, November 24, 2014

Literature and the Scottish Reformation (edited by Crawford Gribben and David George Mullan), Ashgate Publishing, 2009.

Literature Scottish Reformation

This 2009 book caught my eye recently, as I've been reading a 2009 popular biography of Patrick Hamilton entitled Patrick Hamilton 1504-1528: The Stephen of Scotland: The First Preacher and Martyr of the Scottish Reformation. It was written by Brazilian Presbyterian minister Joe Carvalho who had been a minister in Scotland (at Cargill-Burrelton and Collace Church of Scotland, just north of Perth, where Andrew Bonar ministered) before returning to his homeland. Sometimes you need to go beyond your own usual bubble to get fresh perspectives, and the biography is very good, pulling together much information I hadn't seen elsewhere. 

The Preface makes mention of Rev Robert Bruce, a minister of the later Reformation period in Scotland who has interested me for years. I've gathered up most of the books about Bruce. Bruce famously preached in Scots, and when his sermons were published in the 1800s they were 'Englished' for wider readership. Bruce also was instrumental in taking the Gospel into the Highlands, where one of his converts was a Gaelic speaker, Alexander Munro of Durness, who then translated portions of the Bible into Gaelic as a means of evangelism. Bruce's biographies have some very interesting linguistic history and examples of vocabulary.

The languages of the 1600s Scots settlers in Ulster is often a subject of debate. Below is a page from the 1520s translation of the New Testament by Ayrshire Lollard Murdoch Nisbet, and below that is one of Samuel Rutherford's letters from the early 1600s - both are from early 1900s publications.

Literature and the Scottish Reformation looks excellent, one for the Christmas list. A popular edition of this would be worth producing and would provide a linguistic and literary context for the 1600s Lowland Scots settlements in Ulster.SAM 3470




Thursday, November 20, 2014

"The plain people … were earnest in their devotion to the cause of liberty"

"The plain people … were earnest in their devotion to the cause of liberty, and so also were their friends and relatives among the Ulster farmers. The classes of Queen's College had many members from among these enterprising, industrious, serious people, and Professor McCosh became deeply interested in them "
- The Life of James McCosh (1896) - link here

McCosh was of Ayrshire Covenanter descent, was a young minister at the 'Disruption' which founded the Free Church of Scotland, came to Belfast in 1850 to take a position at the new Queen's College and then went to America where he became President of Princeton College in 1868.

The expression "the cause of liberty" has many interpretations today, but for 2014, the growing authoritarianism of the state is an echo of former times. Here's how Spiked views modern authoritarianism in Scotland.

Alexander 'Eck' Robertson and Henry Gilliland - 'Masters of Southern Fiddling'.

Fiddling is not that common any more in the circles I move in and the community I live in. After nearly 15 years of travelling around playing music the fiddle is an instrument that rarely appears at the events we are asked to go to. 100 years ago it definitely was the most common instrument - and the same tuning meant that the mandolin was also quite common - but 'progress' means most folk would now rather watch a screen than learn a skill and modes of creative expression. Local County Down fiddle tradition has been magnificently captured in Nigel Boullier's book Handed Down which I had the privilege of designing with Nigel. Some photos are below.

Local fiddlers did not have the opportunity to be recorded, so much of the once-vibrant tradition has been more or less lost. The same applies to local songs - undervalued, and stylistically outdated, they have been lost and replaced by the pop music of the 20th century. Music sessions not far from here will see people arrive with electronic keyboards and electric guitars with mini-amps to play old 1960s hits, just as often as an accordion with a range of traditional tunes. Of course there are some exceptions, but in the main, globalised consumer culture has displaced local vernacular culture - musically, linguistically, architecturally, and so on. This can lead to people feeling 'rootless'. 

The lack of a defined, captured, recorded, published, marketed heritage is particularly acute in Ulster-Scots communities. It is not easy for the general public to access the old stuff. Finding Irish traditional material is a breeze - this might be a sweeping generalisation but, despite the awful 'Riverdance-ification' of aspects of Irish culture, the Irish community seems to me to have more regard for its traditions than the Ulster-Scots community does. So accessing Ulster-Scots material is like archaeology. It has always existed but it was seldom treasured, except by the few who appreciate its cultural importance and enjoy being part of it all.

There is a vast difference between somebody who lives a tradition, and somebody who just reads about it in a book or online. You cannot substitute a lifetime of understanding with half an hour on Google. I grew up around country men who exuded 'No Surrender' as a characteristic in every aspect of their lives - stoic, quiet men of deep resolve - whose lives did not need to shout 'No Surrender' as the antagonistic sloganeering the expression is sometimes reduced to. I am fortunate that people whose lives have been devoted to gathering up cultural remnants have been generous enough to share their knowledge and experiences with me. The characteristics you exude are more revealing than the words you use. 

One trend with the Ulster-Scots world of the past 15 years or so has been for some to 'over-claim' and exaggerate. I find this particularly the case with American connections - by people on both sides of the Atlantic. There is a fair degree of nonsense talked, written and broadcast (I will resist the temptation to cite examples!) and this tends to become high profile, easily accessed and therefore opinion-forming. The good stuff tends to not get noticed.

American fiddling is not the same as Ulster fiddling, although they are undoubtedly connected. Here's an historic tune by Alexander 'Eck' Robertson and Henry Gilliland from the 1920s, who featured in the eminent Scotch-Irish Society of the USA's bulletin of Winter 2012 in an article by Mike Scoggins. Robertson and Gilliland are said to have been the first country music recording artists in the world. The Society was founded in 1889, just two years after Robertson was born.

SAM 0866SAM 0868SAM 0869SAM 0870SAM 0872SAM 0876SAM 0878SAM 0877SAM 0874SAM 0873SAM 0864SAM 0862SAM 0863

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Belfast Music Hall

Belfast Music Hall 640

The long-demolished Belfast Music Hall, on the corner of May Street and Montgomery Street, was the scene of a Robert Burns Centenary celebration on 26 January 1859. It was also the venue that year for inter-denominational prayer meetings every Wednesday from 1pm–2pm, organised by Rev james Morgan of Fisherwick Presbyterian Church and Rev Charles Seaver of St John's Parish Church. Businessmen like William Ewart and gentry like the Earl of Roden were known to have attended. 1859 was 'The Year of Grace' which saw religious revival sweep Ulster but also Scotland and parts of America.

The building was designed by architect Thomas Jackson, who also designed the Belfast Corn Exchange where the other Belfast Burns celebration took place that evening. There is a summary on This website gives further information on the musical heritage of the building, and some detail about Jackson:

Thomas Jackson (1807–90) designed the Old Museum in College Square North in partnership with Thomas Duff of Newry in 1830-31. Jackson eventually set up in business on his own and his work included the Music Hall, St Malachy’s Church, the Scottish Amicable Life Assurance Company’s building (later owned by G. Heyn & Sons), and many Victorian mansions including Wilmont House, Graymount House and Craigavon House.

Belfast Music Hall site 640

The site today is a car park. The photographs below are from and Geograph.ieNewImageNewImage

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Black North: '... They bordered on being black Protestants ...'

Black North blog 640


The quote in the title was used on Saturday in this article in the Irish Independent about the acclaimed Belfast-born poet Derek Mahon, the son of a flax mill worker mother and a shipyard fitter father. It caught my attention as just last week the old term 'The Black North' was deleted from a project I was working on for fear of causing offence.

It's a pejorative term. The Wikipedia entry places its first usage around 1911 but it's much earlier than that, it was well-known in 1859 so therefore in use before then.

Laying the ground
The theme pops up throughout the centuries, a negative reference to the Scottishness (and by usual implication the Protestant-ness) of Ulster. Take this example from The Wild Irish Girl (1806)

'... as we advance northward, we shall gradually lose sight of the genuine Irish character and those ancient manners, modes, customs and language with which it is inseparably connected... a Scottish colony,; and in fact, a Scotch dialect, Scotch manners, Scotch modes, and Scotch character, almost universally prevail... then in the name of all that is warm and cordial let us hasten back to the province of Connaught'.

The author, Sydney Owenson, goes on to attack the 'cold concerns of the counting-house and the bleach-green'  of Ulster and its lack of the bonhomie that is said to be found elsewhere on the island. We're different. Or to use an expression from the south of England, 'it's grim up north'.

The Dublin Evening Mail of 1 September 1826 wrote '... what he said there would be heard in the depths of the Black North; it would be heard all over Ireland ...'

'... Even in the "black north" in "Protestant Ulster" – Catholicity is progressing at a rate that must strike terror into its enemies ...' - source here.

'... Arrah! pray is this Ulster? is this the black North?...' - here's the source.

1880s & 1890s
In an interview of around 1890, Carrickfergus-born Gothic horror writer Charlotte Riddell said '... Yes, I am from the north — the black north ...'. In her 1885 novel Berna Boyle she wrote of 'the Presbyterians of the Black North'.

In 1903, Francis O'Neill's landmark Music of Ireland includes this reference to working with Banbridge man James O'Neill

'... an accomplished violinist, a namesake and fellow countryman from the “Black North” day after day as opportunity offered, memory recalled tune after tune and strain after strain until the number grew into hundreds ..".

In 1911 Stephen Gwynn's well-known little tourist book Ulster included a chapter entitled 'The Black North' (see here).

Typical of the time, Dubliner and Irish Unionist leader Edward Carson said this in a speech in May 1913:

'... To these men the Ulster Protestants stand for all that is stupid and obscurantist and "impossible," and they would very gladly see them taught a lesson. "Shoot them down like the traitors to Ireland that they are. That is the way to coerce the Black North." Such is the advice that is being assiduously whispered into the ears of the Government by the Nationalist leaders ...'

In 1943 Aodh de Blacam (a Hibernicisation of Hugh Saunders Blackham) published a 315 page book entitled The Black North. An Account of the Six Counties of Unrecovered Ireland: Their People, Their Treasures and Their History, with a foreword by Eamon De Valera. The Dictionary of Irish Biography describes the book as 'delusional on an epic scale'.

The former Ulster Presbyterian minister W.R. Rodgers wrote an article entitled 'Black North' in 1943 for the New Statesman; his The Ulstermen and their Country (1947) is a warm, yet in places self-critical, piece of writing. Rodgers had the ability to see both the light and shade of his own folk.

I don't think the term is as loaded any more. Certainly it carries a hint of ancient (regional/religious/quasi-ethnic) prejudice, but there have been endless actual events in the 20th century far worse than name-calling. At the cutting edge of 'New Belfast' there's an animation studio has reclaimed the term and is called Black North.

For it to appear in the Irish Independent on Saturday demonstrates that the term and concept is well-embedded, if not 'PC'. To give it context, here's a fuller extract:–

'...They bordered on being black Protestants. Derek's uncle, for example, was a B Special - the sort of person the IRA thought deserved murdering (in a non-sectarian way of course). Mahon despised both extremes, but his own peaceful republicanism was troublesome...'

I'd be very interested if any readers could point me towards an origin for the term.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Sainsbury's Christmas advert - 'Leaning on the Everlasting Arms'.


Perfect. Just perfect. The melody of the hymn "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" was also used by the Coen Brothers in various arrangements for the soundtrack for 'True Grit" a few years ago. The tune was written by Presbyterian Anthony Johnson Showalter, who was born in Rockingham County, one of the most 'Scotch-Irish' counties in the state of Virginia.

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
O how bright the path grows from day to day,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Banner of Ulster newspaper, 1862

Banner of Ulster 640 HR

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Ernest Blythe and Newtownards


Kate. Maybe it's yon Scotch body I heard was stopping with them.

Brown. Aye. Yon Mackenzie. Ach, man, but yon creature would scunder you.

from The Drone


Ernest Blythe is a very significant figure in Irish history. Born near Lisburn in 1889 he became a reporter at the North Down Herald newspaper. Here is a photo of him from that era, taking the lead role in an amateur dramatics production of The Drone by Rutherford Mayne (the pen name of Samuel John Waddell, the Japan-born son of an Ulster Presbyterian missionary and founder of the Ulster Literary Theatre). It had débuted in Dublin at the Abbey Theatre in 1908. Waddell's plays have been described as 'fair-minded portrayals of County Down life'.

In a later time of austerity, when Finance Minister for the new Irish Free State government, Blythe cut the old age pension by 10% in an attempt to balance the books in the face of an oncoming 1925 famine, but which was narrowly averted by a good harvest.

Ernest Blythe 640pxSDC11981

An academic paper says this of the company's objectives:

'...all of the contributions highlight the value of emphasizing the North’s regional identity in negotiating between sectarian oppositions. According to Uladh, Ulster was not Ireland, so Ulster plays would be different from the “national” drama presented at the Abbey. Although most of the key members of the Ulster Literary Theatre were nationalists, the company made a case for an Ulster identity that was pluralist rather than dogmatic. The theater was to be run “on broad propagandist lines,” but “non-sectarian and nonpolitical.” This paradox implied an acknowledgment of the complexity of society, and was only possible because the Ulster Literary Theatre viewed its objective in terms that rejected Ulster’s traditional binary oppositions: Catholic versus Protestant, nationalist versus unionist. Its “propaganda” was for the recognition of Ulster as a region with a distinct identity...'

Monday, November 03, 2014

Remember, Remember the 3rd of November - the day 'Eagle Wing' returned


Eagle Wing Cover A5 v2 AW

(Thanks to Robert for this)

American Presbyterians know their history: Click here

And from a few weeks ago: click here

And even this post about Rev James Hamilton of Ballywalter (although he died in Edinburgh, not Ireland): click here